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Portraits of Young Lawyer-Candidates

As Peter Lattman observes this morning at the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, the mud-slinging at last night's Democratic presidential debate can be boiled down to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each accusing the other of having been a lawyer. Clinton, Obama charged, was once "a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart." Obama, Clinton fired back, represented a "slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago." Meanwhile, off on the debate's sidelines, John Edwards somehow seemed to avoid any accusation of ever having been a lawyer.

While the barbs made for good TV, if not an informative debate, a pair of profiles in today's Boston Globe offers a more considered look at the early public-interest work of Clinton as a young lawyer and Obama just before law school. In the first, "Clinton Draws on New Bedford Lessons," reporter Marcella Bombardieri traces Clinton's path through the Massachusetts seaport city, where she went as a lawyer working for the Children's Defense Fund in 1973. In the companion piece, "A Defining Time of Advocacy," reporter Michael Kranish revisits Obama's years as a community organizer in Chicago before heading to Harvard Law School in 1988.

Clinton began her work with CDF while still a Yale law student, spending two summers there and taking an extra year in school to work at Yale-New Haven hospital studying how to deal with suspected child abuse. After graduation, she signed on with CDF in Cambridge, Mass., where her duties took her to New Bedford -- a "city in tatters," Bombardieri writes -- to help survey the dropout rate and its relation to segregation, special needs and poverty. Clinton's work with CDF was "some of the most cutting-edge legal advocacy of the time," the Globe says, but she stayed there just nine months before heading to Washington to become an aide to the congressional committee examining Richard Nixon's impeachment. Remembered one former CDF colleague: "She had a talent that I would say was a notch higher than the rest of us."

More than a decade later, a young Obama moved from New York to Chicago to work as a community organizer at the Altgeld Gardens public housing project. While his achievements there were modest, Kranish writes, they demonstrate "how he was inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and followed the civil rights leader's model of organizing with churches." His work there led him to believe that change would require broader solutions and that law school was his way to contribute. "He understood that change would take a much more global approach," recalled his successor in the job. "I do remember him saying at that time that the country was politically in a more conservative mode but that things operated in cycles and that a much more liberal mindset would begin to develop in the country and he wanted to be prepared to be an effective leader."

In this pair of profiles, as in last night's debate, John Edwards was left on the sidelines. For a look at his early legal career, there is always Wikipedia.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 22, 2008 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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